Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Real History: The Invisible Barrier Keeping Two Worlds Apart

 A look at why the wildlife in Southeast Asia and Australia, Papua New Guinea etc. are so different from each other. Useful setting knowledge for the world of Sundaland. The clue is in the past, the time of the last Ice-Age.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Real History: The Lemon was "invented" in Asia

This information has almost no relevance for playing RPGs but just another interesting piece of evidence for South East Asia being very important in early human history.

The lemon is a human invention that’s maybe only a few thousand years old.

The first lemons came from East Asia, possibly southern China or Burma.  (These days, some prefer to refer to Burma as Myanmar.  I’ll try to stay out of that controversy here and stick to fruit.)  The exact date of the lemon’s first cultivation is not known, but scientists figure it’s been around for more than 4,000 years.  The lemon is a cross breed of several fruits.

From: How The Lemon Was Invented

Reminder that the ChickenSugarcaneBananas, the Coconut as well Ginger were also first domesticated in or around Southeast Asia.

More about early domestication around the world: Geographical Sites and Ecological Components of Agricultural Domestication

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Real History: Bronze-age people took hallucinogenic drugs in Menorca, study reveals

Researchers have found evidence of drug use during bronze age ceremonies.

Analysis of strands of human hair from a burial site in Menorca, Spain, indicates ancient human civilisations used hallucinogenic drugs derived from plants.

The findings are the first direct evidence of ancient drug use in Europe, which may have been used as part of ritualistic ceremonies, researchers say.

Full article here: Bronze-age people took hallucinogenic drugs in Menorca, study reveals

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Real History and Geography: Llanos de Moxos and Tepui

Today, some interesting geography and cultures from South America that might have existed in a similar way in Sundaland.

In Bolivia there is a watery plane of hundreds of thousands of square kilometres in size that is flooded for large parts of the year. In this area there are the remains of mounds connected by causeways, raised strips of land, artificial islands and canals. This type of environment might have existed in central Sundaland and a similar culture would fit right in.

Archaeologist Clark Erickson summarized the early Spanish description of Baure villages:

the villages were large by Amazonian standards and were laid out in formal plans which included streets, spacious public plazas, rings of houses, and large central bebederos (communal men's houses). According to the Jesuits, many of these villages were defended through the construction of deep circular moats and wooden palisades enclosing the settlements. Settlements were connected by causeways and canals that enabled year round travel.[27]

As usual I recommend you read the Wikipedia entry to learn more: Llanos de Moxos

Nearby in Venezuela there exist huge tabletop mountains called Tepui which function as ecological islands. These mountains served as the inspiration for the Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which explorers discover a land of where Dinosaurs still exist. 

Perhaps there exist hidden mountains, valleys and giant caves and sinkholes in what is now Borneo or Papua New Guinea where similar ancient animals, and perhaps other surprises, can still be found?

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The Gods and Religions of Sundaland

                                                    AI Image generated by Midjourney*

The priests were dizzy and swaying from the plant brew that they had ingested an hour earlier. Now, standing in front of each other, with an obsidian dagger in each of their hands, they were ready to fight to the death. The loser would be the sacrifice that would appease the gods of the rain winds and bring honour on his family and clan. The winner would have to leave the city with his family until the motion of the stars across the sky had completed a full cycle. The circular arena of red stone seated a baying crowd of thousands. They chanted along to the rhythm of their rattles and drums slowly increasing the tempo and volume to a crescendo. Suddenly the high priest-king, from his balcony, dropped a jade encrusted sceptre into the sandy floor below. The combatants lunged at each other, as best they could.

In this post I'll share some tables for learning more about the gods and religions of Sundaland. Use 1d6 if you want to generate random combinations. Many religions will share similar attributes but these tables will help you identify those that are most prominent.

My preference is to have a mixture of these ideas present across the various cultures to give that weird Sword & Sorcery culture shock experience. Embrace the contradictions, it doesn't have to make sense to our 21st century ways of understanding.

Personally, I've never been particularly interested in elaborate religious systems and expansive pantheons of gods in my RPG settings. Similarly to how I think about magic, I believe that by describing this aspect of a setting in systematic detail you remove an element of mystery and wonder. It starts to look like a hierarchical bureaucracy (although some of you may find that fun).

I've written some thoughts on this before and referenced some interesting articles in a previous post which discuss the topic of how people in ancient times really engaged with their religion: Shout Out: Practical Polytheism.

When I use terms such as gods, spirits etc. you can substitute all kinds of things; ancestors, ghosts, demons, beings from other dimensions and realities or even aliens.

Gods, spirits and other supernatural beings are...

1. Social constructs and a figment of people's imagination that are used as part of religion to understand or explain the world and their experiences in it. None of it is real and some people or non-human beings know this.

2. Spirits residing within animate (animals, people) and inanimate objects (tools, weapons, artefacts) or locations of significance such as waterfalls, caves, rivers, strangely shaped rocks etc. They make reality do what it does. Without them water wouldn't be wet, sharp things wouldn't cut and tigers wouldn't hunt deer.

3. Supernatural powers behind natural forces such as typhoons, earthquakes, droughts, volcanoes, wildfires, mudslides and deluges. 

4. Elemental beings associated with fire, water, air, earth and spirit.

5. The supernatural powers behind abstract concepts such as war, peace, commerce, music, bountiful hunting and harvests etc.

6. Aliens or beings from other worlds, dimensions, realms, times or realities (Elder Beings: Truth of the Star Gods).

Gods, spirits and other supernatural beings look like...

1. Normal humans, indistinguishable from ourselves.

2. Humans but exceeding us with far greater physical, mental or spiritual attributes. Or humans with some notable difference. For example unusual skin, eye or hair colours (for example blue skin, red eyes and green hair) or different anatomy such as wings, gills or tails.

3. Animals of Southeast Asia. For inspiration about the animals of Southeast Asia look here: The Fauna and Megafauna of Sundaland and here: Ecology Asia. Examples includes crocodiles, tigers, elephants, monkeys, water-buffalo, banteng, vultures, hyena and various birds, reptiles and amphibians.

4. A combination of animal and human anatomy.

5. Combinations of physical attributes of insects, mammals reptiles, birds, amphibians and invertebrates (which range from from insects and worms to jellyfish and octopuses). 

6. Things that aren't found in our world, universe or reality; Unusual combinations of what we would describe as wings, tentacles, claws, beaks, exoskeletons, multiple eyes, heads and limbs. Or perhaps material or non-material manifestations that the human mind can't even conceive of.

Gods, spirits and other supernatural beings posses abilities such as...

1. Only being able to affect reality in ways that are plausibly explained by natural forces. Earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, typhoons, volcano outbursts, migrating animals, disease, famine and warfare.

2. Incredible strength, speed, agility, intelligence, bravery, prowess and other recognisable human or animal attributes and skills.

3. The ability to affect the hearts and minds of humans and animals so that it seems as if it was their own natural motivation at work.

4. The ability to affect or warp time and reality, locally or globally, for individuals or masses.

5. Bend the laws of nature such as making water run up hill, creating flames as cold as ice and making heavy things so light they float in the air.

6. Being able to create technology so advanced it could be considered magic when compared to human engineering. The technology harnesses electricity, steam or nuclear power, magnets, acoustics or magical metals. See also: Orichalcum: The Magical Metals of Sundaland

Religion is for...

1. Giving cultures a shared sense of meaning. It makes communities stronger and more resilient but can be used by some to influence or control people's thoughts and behaviour for ulterior motives.

2. Appeasing the gods and spirits to protect people from their malevolent will and destructive power.

3. Learning about other worlds, realms, the present, the past, predetermined or possible futures.

4. Enhancing or developing individuals, either spiritually, mentally or physically.

5. Improving the material wellbeing of people such as by increasing rainfall, healing the sick, improving the results for hunting and fishing expeditions, delivering success in battle or helping to find resources.

6. Protecting the culture from rival groups, natural forces, animals, diseases, beasts and monsters or other gods and supernatural beings.

People can communicate with the gods or spirits by...

1. Taking hallucinogenic substances or entering a trance state through chanting, dancing, singing, meditating or other forms of mental and physical stress.

2. Through dreams, visions, voices in nature or in their head.

3. Contemplating or observing nature for omens such as the movement of birds, tides and weather patterns. Or through astrology by watching the movement of the sun, moon, stars, planets and comets.

4. Casting bones, shell or stones. Inspecting entrails, burning or otherwise destroying particular objects or substances, or speaking with idols and statues.

5. Creating sigils, glyphs and other patterns with coloured sand, paint, woven materials or carvings.

6. By interacting with magical tools or technology created for the culture or that was lost or left behind by the gods, aliens or other beings.

Rituals involve...

1. Solitary practice.

2. Communal experiences.

3. Being led and guided by particular individuals, groups or castes.

4. Travelling to, or ritualistically walking around religious sites.

5. Sacrifices of offerings of some kind; animals, resources, tools, artefacts, opportunities, social standing or anything else of value.

6. Conflict, debate, discussion, competition, combat, games, sports or races.

Everyday religious practice for the average person involves...

1. Praying, meditating, inducing trance states.

2. Chanting, singing, playing musical instruments, dancing or story-telling.

3. Making sacrifices or offerings.

4. Enduring physical, mental or spiritual trials or hardship.

5. Consulting religious figures for advice or asking them to do rituals on their behalf.

6. Observing strict rules that govern every day activities such as interactions between people, cooking food, crafting, hunting, fishing, tending gardens, trade, commerce and resource extraction.

The religions of other cultures are...

1. Simply untrue and safely ignored.

2. True but less powerful and less consequential than our own.

3. Equally true and powerful as our own but deserves no special respect or treatment.

4. Equally true and powerful, should be respected and have as valid a right to exist as our own.

5. Equally true but more powerful than our own. Should be feared and respected.

6. Whether true or untrue, dangerous and must be destroyed.

Two more relevant sets of tables (there are many more in the Content Overview section found in the side bar):

Random Sundaland Culture Generator

Cultural Flavour Tables

Real History: Discovery of Oldest Bow and Arrow Technology in Eurasia

"The origins of human innovation have traditionally been sought in the grasslands and coasts of Africa or the temperate environments of Europe. More extreme environments, such as the tropical rainforests of Asia, have been largely overlooked, despite their deep history of human occupation. A new study provides the earliest evidence for bow-and-arrow use, and perhaps the making of clothes, outside of Africa ~48-45,000 years ago –in the tropics of Sri Lanka."

Source: Discovery of Oldest Bow and Arrow Technology in Eurasia

Tuesday, February 28, 2023